What did I observe in Harare where I was based for the ten days? I
observed a deeply flawed election which took place in the context of uncertainty
and fear. I will illustrate with anecdotes. One day coming back from chasing
missing MDC supporters at police stations and catching our breath in the lobby
of the Meikles Hotel – where by the way a hell of a lot of observer mission
people spent a great deal of their time - we were told there was a press
conference to be held in the lobby by the MDC. We waited and then were told
that it had been declared illegal and had moved to the MDC headquarters. I
give this anecdote – as how can you run an election where a press conference of
the leading presidential contender can be declared illegal – using, by the
way, legislation introduced by Ian Smith?
Climate of fear and
uncertainty. At a briefing for observers conducted by the Chief Electoral
officer he was asked by a very brave Zimbabwean student “how many ballots did
you put out” - he said “enough” The anecdotes capture something. The polling
stations were published in the newspapers the day before the polling started.
The voters roll was never available, it is unclear the total number of people
that were registered.
It was not a free political environment by any manner
or means. Over large parts of Zimbabwe the carrying of the Daily News – the MDC
oriented non government owned newspaper could get you beaten up or killed.
In large parts of Zimbabwe the MDC had to campaign at night and secretly. In
fact they took to dropping pamphlets from trucks that moved at reasonable speed
and didn’t stop. Everyone conceded that throughout Mashonaland East , West
and Central, and in large parts of Masvingo province it wasn’t possible for the
MDC to campaign. They could not put up posters, they couldn’t have meetings,
and they couldn’t campaign.
There was a complete absence of a fair referee –
I can only say that the referee was wearing Zanu PF colours. The voters roll
was only made available to presiding officers at about 4 o’clock in Harare, on
the day before balloting. Registration closed on 3rd of March for an election
which took place as I recall on 10th March . Everyone thought registration had
closed on 27th January. But it’s entirely unclear to me and I think to
everybody else where the additional voters were registered between 27th January
and 10th of March.
But what is perfectly clear, I am afraid to say, is a
perfect correlation between percentage poll and Zanu PF support. To keep
life particularly interesting the number of polling stations in urban areas was
cut by half, or at least by 30%. With the result that in areas where I worked
from the opening of polling on day one to the closing of polling on day three
there was always a queue of between 2 and 3000 people waiting to vote. And it
was my conviction that in the five to seven polling stations in the 19 Harare
constituencies – at each of the polling stations between 2 and 3000 people never
got to vote. You can just do the arithmetic and we are talking about the
disenfranchisement of a very substantial number of people.
The second thing I observed was a deeply divided society. We had
amongst our team a very distinguished South African the President of the SA
cricket board, or under current circumstances he prefers his other job which is
head of the scorpions. Talk about hedging your bets!
He came with a very apt socio political
observation. He said that if there was a cricket match being conducted in
Harare, the Daily Herald being the Zanu PF supporting paper and the Daily News
being the MDC supporting newspaper, they would have had different scores. I
put it differently – you would read different weather forecasts in the two
The media is as divided as I have seen any where in the world
in my life. You could read a report of a rally and not believe that the same
rally was being described. The Zimbabwean broadcasting corporation just
represented “current affairs” for the older people in the room, in full visual
flight. It was the most odious propaganda possible.
I don’t think the BBC,
ITV and CNN did very much better. Particularly ITV and BBC broadcasting
pathetically from Beit Bridge to make the point every day that they had not been
allowed into the country, and yet they interviewed Zimbabweans crossing the
border as the basis of their story. They also were portraying a picture of
Mugabe that he was like Adolph Hitler - it was complete bias. It is quite an
important point this. I don’t think democratic choice is possible in the
absence of free and fair information. Certainly that society was appallingly
served. I would have to say that I do not think the Daily News is a reliable
source of information about what the government is doing and sure as hell the
Herald isn’t. The victim was the truth and the people that paid the price were
the voters of Zimbabwe. There was of course a complete absence of debate – when
the party politicians characterise each other as murderers and worse, and
various forms of animal epithets, it’s not possible to constitute a debate.
Civil society now seems to be very profoundly divided. The best analogy I
can give you is that of the Anglican church - the bishop of Harare I know from
first hand observation is a strong supporter of radical land reform if not a
Zanu PF supporter - whereas the Anglican Bishop of Bulawayo is a brave critic
of the Zimbabwean government. So just about everywhere you went you seemed to
find – it was like Star Wars - there were black cats and there were white cats
- and there appeared to be no mediating structures.
The last thing I learned,
was that here is a society that has constituted a sense of its future around
false dichotomies. I will be brief, but you were lead to believe either in
the importance of successful land reform or in the importance of successful
agriculture. But no body would make the case for the two together which is
clearly and common-sensically what is required. Either the focus would be on
indigenising the economy – a horrible word by the way which I hope never comes
into our vocabulary because we should then go to the Koi Koi and Koi San - or
you had to grow the economy – but nobody would talk about the need to achieve an
economy that belonged to all. Then either people would talk about loyalty
to Zimbabwe, or to Tony Blair’s gay gang of gangsters – which was the most
frequently repeated election phrase of Robert Mugabe. A very elevated
political debate you’ll agree. So either you had to be a Zimbabwean, or I don’t
know what else.
What is intriguing about that society that I have observed
Zimbabwe over a great distance – I was previously there from 1980 to 1985 and
from then to the next time I was there in the observer mission I had one visit
between 1985 and 2002 - it seemed to me that the white community in Zimbabwe got
the shock of its life when Mugabe was elected and kind of retired out of public
life and withdrew in to a sort of sphere of economic activity and then came back
with a vengeance in 1999.
But in this it is not entirely clear to me whether
it is possible to talk about white ‘Zimbabweans’. I don’t think this is a
concept that is easily accommodated in the national psyche. I think there are
two sides to that story – I think there is a lot of just blatant racism from
government folks and government cabinet ministers who talk about Zimbabwe as if
it is an exclusively black society.
I think from the point of view of
whites in Zimbabwe, and there are 60 000 of them and most of them voted, and
the most rugged, courageous and impressive group of people I think I’ve ever
come across, and yet a number of them hold on to dual nationality. It’s a
complicated thing – and I’m not suggesting that there are easy answers here.
If I were a white Zimbabwean I think that I would probably either leave or give
up my British passport.
In any case this is a debate here about what it
means to be a South African. I have observed just to make the contrast, that
most black south African have no problem being Africans and most white South
African have no problem being south Africans. A lot of white South Africans
have problems being called Africans and black South Africans being called South
Africans – ‘South African’ is attached to Springboks and things of that nature.
Anyway this sort of debate needs to go on in that society as it seems to be that
the minority groups in that society have a huge role to play.
2. What I learned.
A sense of jubilation at crossing the Limpopo
river! (coming back to SA) We are incredibly blessed in South Africa – we are
blessed with symbols of national unity - leaders like Mandela and de Klerk.
Mandela in a Springbok jersey at Ellis Park when we won the World Cup. A flag
that strangely enough was designed by an advertising agency and has seduced all
of us. Certainly it makes us feel good. Part of our identify. We did
determine our own destiny – we had no Lancaster House. We had no Lord
Soames presiding over our future.
We did right at the beginning produce
an independent electoral referee. This was a tremendously ongoing debate,
because we had in our team Dikgang Moseneke and the more I complained about
how rigged the election was the more he told me about big plastic bags of
ballots – because there were no ballot boxes in 1994 in Soweto and they used
black plastic rubbish bags. And how he and Kriegle had to decide whether to
accept these votes or not - if they would have been formalistic they would have
rejected the ballots but they decided to accept them.
The point is that
he was making that decision and not FW de Klerk. Sure our election was chaotic
and maybe it was rigged in KZ Natal - I don’t know how honestly they counted
the votes. But there was a sense of national buy-in to that process and there
was a sense of an independent referee.
3. Quo Vadis
I suppose I should be able to
offer you a nice optimistic scenario – I’m afraid that fails me – I don’t
know. It was certainly a flawed election – maybe a stolen election. But it
was an election, but let us be clear - the votes did not give any reliable
indication as to the will of the Zimbabwean people. That much I will absolutely
stand by. It’s probably very important to speak the truth on that matter.
But I have to say that there is a very limited value in negative sanction.
If you think somebody is a crook and a thug and the equivalent of Adolph
Hitler, sending him a moral message will not be the most efficacious thing to
do. It will make you feel good, but I think simply condemning, simply
isolating, simply boycotting – maybe that was the responsible thing to do,
certainly it was the right judgement about the election – I’m sure the
commonwealth made the right decision.
But lets be clear, that is an
affirmation of universal values that it is the right thing to do, but that
doesn’t solve the Zimbabwean quandary. I’m afraid to say that I think the
notion of a government of national unity is an almost equally superficial and
naïve goal. Given the way power is organised and exercised in Zimbabwe, if
I was Morgan Tsvangirai I would not likely accept a deputy presidency under
Mugabe in a country that’s organised like this. I think that’s not a very
Well what can they do – I think they have a very long
walk to freedom I’m afraid. I say that with a considerable degree of heart
sore – because the heroism of black and white Zimbabweans waiting 30, 40 , 50,
60 hours in queues to vote, withstanding all sorts of provocation and
intimidation –it’s a heroic country and they deserve better. But it’s a slow
walk – if I were organising things I would try first to get an agreement around
at least electoral rules, at least an independent electoral commission, at
least some very basic things – like you can’t have an election unless the
voters roll is available six weeks in advance, you know where the balloting is,
all the agents can participate in setting up the process, so I would try to
agree on rules. I know that sounds a bit feeble, but if you don’t have these
rules, you don’t have a legitimate government, if you don’t have a legitimate
government where do you go from there.
Maybe they need a coercer, maybe they
need to look more deeply at their constitution. Ironically, as I understand
it, in the 1999 constitution there were some quite good provisions which
actually limited the extent of executive power. And provided for amore
entrenched division of powers. There was also of course the provision for
expropriation. So maybe the good got thrown out with the bad. Maybe they need
to revisit their constitution.
They certainly need to build tolerance -
you know criticism and treason are regularly confused in that society. And
certainly they need to build the civil society. I think the business community,
the churches, the labour movement here in south Africa, have a mission in a way
to try to build their counterparts across the border –not the change the
government, but to build a robust civil organ of society to provide a place
where facts emerge, where debate is possible, where you can start defining
national goals and achieving symbols of national unity.
4. Cautionary note for South
The cautionary note is this -
we South Africans who are well known like the Australian cricket team for our
humility and modesty, spend our time saying that in south African we don’t do
it like this, in SA we have an independent electoral commission, in South Africa
we do this that and the next thing,
As time went by I wondered, if the ANC
were facing the prospect of losing an election, just how robust our political
process would be, how robust our civil society would be. And the cautionary
note is that it’s dead easy to be a democracy when you have a massively dominant
ruling party that faces no prospect of losing power. It’s the prospect of losing
power that focuses the mind and corrupts the heart and we aren’t there yet, and
with respect I’m not sure that Botswana is there yet.
I think probably
the judgement of a truly robust multi party democracy is probably the second
time a party government changes and it becomes ‘routinised’. I remember oddly
enough Ronald Regan of all people during an inauguration observing the magical
moment of the transfer of power in the USA, but you know in the broad sweep of
5000 years of human history what you did to your opponent was chop his head off,
you didn’t go to a ballot box and hand over power to him.
This is an
unusual experience in history and its one many western countries seem to have
got right now, quite recently in terms of their own histories, and one which we
shouldn’t be too smug about here in South Africa. Thanks very
Question: Isn’t there something more substantial
the international community ………….can do to help Zimbabwe?
We cant pretend to save Zimbabwe. I
think people save themselves or don’t. I think it would be tragic if we were
to withdraw, and I come away with a desire to engage – a lot more.
public discourse about Zimbabwe, I think what we have to move away from I think
is completely blanket moral judgements. In interpersonal relationships if you
say to somebody you re a rogue and a thief, and a cheat and I wish you would
amend your dress code. If you condemn somebody they are unlikely to change their
I think we have missed a trick, because in every interaction
with Zimbabwe I think we should define what we think the truth is and what the
right thing is. As an example, if we can get land reform (and I use that term
deliberately) right in SA, if we can show the vibrant growth of a black
commercial farming class and also if we can deal with land hunger, which I
think is a complicated thing, and has as much to do with residence as it has to
do with subsistence farming, in fact it has a lot more to-do with residence,
you know what I mean by residence, I mean tenure – a better word – I don’t think
everybody is passionately wanting to grow cabbages in south Africa,
But I do
think people want the security of having a piece of land that is their own.
But the more we get that right, the more we create a template. To me the
observer mission that was most effective and there were a lot of missions - was
in fact the SADC parliamentary forum, which came with the SADC code which
actually specifies and sets out the norms, there should be an independent
electoral authority, there should be a voters roll available beforehand, people
should know where the balloting stations are, the agents should be able to
observe the setting up and the closing down of the voting and the voting
Instead of just saying this is a bad election say these are the
right ways to get things going. And you know even with interacting with Zanu
PF, and that why I hope eventually, the SA observer mission report will come out
and I hope it will create, apart from its conclusion whatever that might be, it
will include a critique of the electoral process including the electoral laws
which in some cases are absolutely hopeless.
I think that engagement can go
on. I’m afraid to say that I think that what Zimbabwe needs now is
constructive engagement not isolation and moral condemnation. And that’s not to
say that we should keep quiet on the basic values, and we shouldn’t condone
lawlessness or murder or any of those things. I do think as South Africans we
have got to be careful not to be racially skewed. In our moral outrage.
own sense is that the politics in Zimbabwe have got very little to do with white
farmers. The White farmers are a CNN visual image. The politics of Zimbabwe
have everything to do with quite farm workers, and breaking the back of
opposition to Zanu PF by chasing farm workers off the property.
is that for every white Zimbabwean that has been killed, and every one is a
tragedy, there are probably 10, 15 or 100 black Zimbabweans. There were an
estimated 20 000 people killed in that mid eighties period of viciousness and
I just say this because we have got to find a way of talking
about the rule of law and good governance, and the sanctity of life, that is
decoupled from race. I was amazed, you would have thought that Mugabe was
running against Tony Blair, maybe he should have. Tsvangirai, was just put in
the background and it was the rest against Mugabe that was the way it was
We shouldn’t buy in to that completely phoney and false
paradigm. What encourages me is that every one of the people who cheered when
we crossed the Limpopo on SAA were black and white – there was a sense of
relief. So you see we are discovering some things in common and we should build
on that and the more we are racially united on our criticism the more we will
help those guys beyond our border. In the end the destiny is in their own hands
– we just be good neighbours or bad neighbours.
I can only offer
you an honest response and I tell you it is a disagreement – the jubilation that
I experienced through the three days of voting was when people stood for thirty
forty fifty sixty hours and it was like that, and they finally got to vote, and
I worked mainly in the township sector (inaudible) we were trying to go deep
rather than broad, we were inside the voting stations, 4, 5 times a day each
voting station, and you know the guys who stood in the queues, they did a very
The ballot boxes which were very fine wooden ballot
boxes, a lot of the trappings of the election no doubt inherited from old times
- they had to vote three times, one for mayor, one for ward counsellor, one
When they guy put his ballot in, the tendency was to smack
the ballot box, and the smack was a sense of achievement, and a sense of
pleasure, but I mean we saw it in the voting queues, people were patient going
in, but going out it was almost as if they felt more citizens of the country -
as if something magical had happened.
I think making a political choice
has nothing to do with culture, and whether you are a Rumanian or a Zimbabwean,
if you are actually able to elect our rulers, that it’s a fantastic thing. I
think what we have to understand that voting is only the outcome of a process.
“His Majesty’s loyal opposition” – I am so intrigued by that phrase and would
like to know when people started using that phrase - the argument that
opposition can be part of order and part of democracy, I mean that’s a notion
that hasn’t made it across the Limpopo yet. If you can get the attitudes
right, the trappings of democracy right, and then I think there is no such thing
as Western democracy, there’s just real elections and not real elections. And
real elections involve secret ballots,, absolutely, whatever manner or means you
want to do.
Question inaudible – something to do with a
prediction for the Zimbabwe economy.
There are other people in
this room better qualified – well it’s a country in crisis. Here’s an anecdote
which I think captures what I mean - first time a changed money in a Meikles
hotel the paper says I get 50 Z dollars to the Rand but I get 170. in the
hotel. In the hotel I get a piece of paper that is a lie. Now what is going on
here. If I had gong to the park outside, I would have got 300.
economy living a lie. And it’s an economy in that sense in crisis and it can’t
carry on. What happens when it breaks down – I really don’t know. I guess
there are two scenarios – either they fix the election rules such that an
opposition party has a real chance of wining, or a younger and different
generation of political leadership inside Zanu PF realises the political
liability of their current leader and dumps him, or there is a military coup.
You can fill in the rest of the blanks.
I draw hope from the fact that
nobody thought that SA could change in the way that it did from the intense
loyalty of Zimbabweans both white and black to that country, but beyond that I
cant really offer you any predictions.
disagree with our deputy president (Zuma) more – I believe that freedom is a
universal value, and that the rule of law is a universal phenomenon, there is
nothing euro centric about that, I mean is the holocaust euro centric? - it
happened. I think there is good and bad and it goes across continents and
colours and now is the time to attest to this.
I don’t know of any of my
black south Africans in that team and it was 45 blacks and 5 nervous whites in
the team who would want a polity, a public discourse, a government, a media like
that, we want something better. I think what you are saying is Zimbabwe either
a warning or even a forecast of where we might end up - it depends entirely on
what we do.
Again I would stress and I think it is an unfair criticism. I
think many whites in Zimbabwe, went on an internal immigration, those that
didn’t leave withdrew from the public life and they left a big vacuum that’s a
lesson to white south Africans. To black South Africans colonialism is over,
now we must decide what kind of country we want to be.
I would like to be a
better democracy than the USA that can count votes faster than they were able in
Florida. I would not like to stand back and apologise for some kind of second
or third hand democracy, and my sense is that most of my black compatriots want
exactly the same thing. If we let it happen of course it will happen, the
price of freedom is constant vigilance, and you cant assume that everything is
In one sense I think Nelson Mandela did the country a disservice
because he seemed to make everything all right, - I mean you just step outin a
rugby jersey and we thought we didn’t have to do anything more – clearly we
have got a lot more to do.
S. van Lingen/British Chamber
From The Sunday Times (SA), 26
Mugabe under pressure to talk to
Mbeki and Obasanjo determined to get
Zimbabwe leader back to negotiations.
South African and Nigerian presidents Thabo
Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo are to hold talks with their Zimbabwean counterpart,
Robert Mugabe, to persuade him to resume talks with the opposition Movement for
Democratic Change. ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe, the chief
facilitator in the now-derailed unity talks between Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu PF
and the MDC, said Mbeki and Obasanjo were determined to get dialogue restarted
as soon as possible. "The two presidents will be able to pull it off," he said
on Friday. "They will marshal all forces necessary to get the talks going. It is
the only way for the country to move forward." Presidential spokesman Bheki
Khumalo said Mbeki and Mugabe were expected to meet on Thursday at a one-day
summit on the Democratic Republic on Congo in Lusaka, Zambia. The two leaders
could decide on a date for talks on Zimbabwe then, he said.
Mbeki and Obasanjo were mandated by the
Commonwealth to facilitate talks in Zimbabwe following the widely criticised
presidential election in March which saw Mugabe retain power. Motlanthe and
Adebayo Adedeji, Obasanjo's envoy, spent several weeks consulting the leaders of
the two parties on the agenda and rules of procedure. The talks, scheduled to
have begun on May 13, were scuppered when the Zanu PF delegation, led by
Zimbabwe's Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, sent a letter to Motlanthe saying
it wanted the talks shelved. It claimed discussions could proceed only once the
MDC's court action challenging the outcome of the elections was concluded. "The
rules of procedure provided for a postponement . . . Our understanding was that
we would then get to Harare and discuss this at the plenary. The Zanu PF
delegation clearly breached the rules of procedure (by failing to arrive)," he
Motlanthe and Adedeji have since met Mugabe
to "seek clarification" on Zanu PF's position. Mugabe said that his party was
still committed to dialogue but was concerned about the MDC's court action. The
two envoys then met MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube, who explained that in
terms of Zimbabwean law, the MDC had to file its court papers within 30 days of
the election. "The MDC explained to us they filed this petition on the very last
day, on the 30th day, because they thought they should just preserve their right
of recourse to court. "We met [MDC leader] Morgan Tsvangirai and he said they
were committed to the dialogue and tensions would be reduced once the dialogue
commences. He said the court action should not be regarded as a stumbling block
to the dialogue," Motlanthe said. The MDC said if Obasanjo and Mbeki were able
to bring Zanu PF back to the table, it would be ready.